Russia detains two US citizens on espionage charges

21st March 2008, Comments 0 comments

Russia's secret service said Thursday it had detained two US citizens, one an employee of oil firm TNK-BP, on charges of industrial espionage after a raid of the company's headquarters, Interfax news agency reported.

21 March 2008

Moscow (dpa) - Russia's secret service said Thursday it had detained two US citizens, one an employee of oil firm TNK-BP, on charges of industrial espionage after a raid of the company's headquarters, Interfax news agency reported.

The Federal Secret Service (FSB) said the men, who also hold Russian citizenship, were "illegally gathering classified commercial secrets to procure for foreign oil and gas companies competitive advantages over Russian competitors in the CIS market."

The FSB identified the men arrested as brothers Alexander Zaslavsky, head of the British Alumni Club, and Ilya Zaslavsky, an employee of the British-Russian petrolium firm TNK-BP.

The British Council, a state associated cultural organization whose legal status in Russia is sorely debated, specified that Alexander Zaslavsky was not one of its employees, but said: "the British Alumni Club are valued contacts so we are obviously concerned."

The two brothers were detained on March 12 in "an attempt to secure classified information, which constitute commercial secrets, from a Russian citizen, who was an employee at guarded state oil and gas facility," according to a statment by FSB.

The FSB said that a raid of TNK-BP's Moscow headquarters a day earlier, which fuelled media speculation the company is being targeted for Russian state control, had been related to its criminal investigation into the spy charges.

"During the raid, proof confirming the charges of industrial espionage was found and seized," the FSB statment said, citing materials as copies of Russian state documents, analytical reports on its energy resources and the business cards of employees of foreign military agencies and the Central Intelligence Agencie (CIA).

TNK-BP is the result of a 2003 merger of British petroleum firm BP and the Alfa Group, a consortium of Russian billionaire investors.

BP's loss of its majority stake in the massive Siberian oil field Kovykta to Russian energy monopoly Gazprom last year prompted analysts to venture that Russian investors could sell their stake in the company to a state-controlled energy firm.

A TNK-BP company representative said Thursday it was "working as usual," and stressed that the company it would always be "ready to cooperate with law enforcement bodies."

[Copyright dpa 2008]

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